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Chapter 11 The Test On Miriam
WITH the spring came again the old madness and battle. Now he knew he would have to go to Miriam. But what was his reluctance? He told himself it was only a sort of overstrong virginity in her and him which neither could break through. He might have married her; but his circumstances at home made it difficult, and, moreover, he did not want to marry. Marriage was for life, and because they had become close companions, he and she, he did not see that it should inevitably follow they should be man and wife. He did not feel that he wanted marriage with Miriam. He wished he did. He would have given his head to have felt a joyous desire to marry her and to have her. Then why couldn't he bring it off? There was some obstacle; and what was the obstacle? It lay in the physical bondage. He shrank from the physical contact. But why? With her he felt bound up inside himself. He could not go out to her. Something struggled in him, but he could not get to her. Why? She loved him. Clara said she even wanted him; then why couldn't he go to her, make love to her, kiss her? Why, when she put her arm in his, timidly, as they walked, did he feel he would burst forth in brutality and recoil? He owed himself to her; he wanted to belong to her. Perhaps the recoil and the shrinking from her was love in its first fierce modesty. He had no aversion for her. No, it was the opposite; it was a strong desire battling with a still stronger shyness and virginity. It seemed as if virginity were a positive force, which fought and won in both of them. And with her he felt it so hard to overcome; yet he was nearest to her, and with her alone could he deliberately break through. And he owed himself to her. Then, if they could get things right, they could marry; but he would not marry unless he could feel strong in the joy of it--never. He could not have faced his mother. It seemed to him that to sacrifice himself in a marriage he did not want would be degrading, and wo uld undo all his life, make it a nullity. He
would try what he COULD do.

And he had a great tenderness for Miriam. Always, she was sad, dreaming her religion; and he was nearly a religion to her. He could not bear to fail her. It would all come right if they tried.

He looked round. A good many of the nicest men he knew were like himself, bound in by their own virginity, which they could not break out of. They were so sensitive to their women that they would go without them for ever rather than do them a hurt, an injustice. Being the sons of mothers whose husbands had blundered rather brutally through their feminine sanctities, they were themselves too diffident and shy. They could easier deny themselves than incur any reproach from a woman; for a woman was like their mother, and they were full of the sense of their mother. They preferred themselves to suffer the misery of celibacy, rather than risk the other person.

He went back to her. Something in her, when he looked at her, brought the tears almost to his eyes. One day he stood behind her as she sang. Annie was playing a song on the piano. As Miriam sang her mouth seemed hopeless. She sang like a nun singing to heaven. It reminded him so much of the mouth and eyes of one who sings beside a Botticelli Madonna, so spiritual. Again, hot as steel, came up the pain in him. Why must he ask her for the other thing? Why was there his blood battling with her? If only he could have been always gentle, tender with her, breathing with her the atmosphere of reverie and religious dreams, he would give his right hand. It was not fair to hurt her. There seemed an eternal maidenhood about her; and when he thought of her mother, he saw the great brown eyes of a maiden who was nearly scared and shocked out of her virgin maidenhood, but not quite, in spite of her seven children. They had been born almost leaving her out of count, not of her, but upon her. So she could never let them go, because she never had possessed them.

Mrs. Morel saw him going again frequently to Miriam, and was astonished. He said nothing to his mother. He did not explain nor excuse himself. If he came home late, and she reproached him, he frowned and turned on her in an overbearing way:

"I shall come home when I like," he said; "I am old enough."

"Must she keep you till this time?"

"It is I who stay," he answered.

"And she lets you? But very well," she said.

And she went to bed, leaving the door unlocked for him; but she lay listening until he came, often long after. It was a great bitterness to her that he had gone back to Miriam. She recognised, however, the uselessness of any further interference. He went to Willey Farm as a man now, not as a youth. She had no right over him. There was a coldness between him and her. He hardly told her anything. Discarded, she waited on him, cooked for him still, and loved to slave for him; but her face closed again like a mask. There was nothing for her to do now but the housework; for all the rest he had gone to Miriam. She could not forgive him. Miriam killed the joy and the warmth in him. He had been such a jolly lad, and full of the warmest affection; now he grew colder, more and more irritable and gloomy. It reminded her of William; but Paul was worse. He did things with more intensity, and more realisation of what he was about. His mother knew how he was suffering for want of a woman, and she saw him going to Miriam. If he had made up his mind, nothing on earth would alter him. Mrs. Morel was tired. She began to give up at last; she had finished. She was in the way.

He went on determinedly. He realised more or less what his mother felt. It only hardened his soul. He made himself callous towards her; but it was like being callous to his own health. It undermined him quickly; yet he persisted.

He lay back in the rocking-chair at Willey Farm one evening. He had been talking to Miriam for some weeks, but had not come to the point. Now he said suddenly:

"I am twenty-four, almost."

She had been brooding. She looked up at him suddenly in surprise.

"Yes. What makes you say it?"

There was something in the charged atmosphere that she dreaded.

"Sir Thomas More says one can marry at twenty-four."

She laughed quaintly, saying:

"Does it need Sir Thomas More's sanction?"

"No; but one ought to marry about then."

"Ay," she answered broodingly; and she waited.

"I can't marry you," he continued slowly, "not now, because we've no money, and they depend on me at home."

She sat half-guessing what was coming.

"But I want to marry now---"

"You want to marry?" she repeated.

"A woman--you know what I mean."

She was silent.

"Now, at last, I must," he said.

"Ay," she answered.

"And you love me?"

She laughed bitterly.

"Why are you ashamed of it," he answered. "You wouldn't be ashamed before your God, why are you before people?"

"Nay," she answered deeply, "I am not ashamed."

"You are," he replied bitterly; "and it's my fault. But you know I can't help being--as I am--don't you?"

"I know you can't help it," she replied.

"I love you an awful lot--then there is something short."

"Where?" she answered, looking at him.

"Oh, in me! It is I who ought to be ashamed--like a spiritual cripple. And I am ashamed. It is misery. Why is it?"

"I don't know," replied Miriam.

"And I don't know," he repeated. "Don't you think we have been too fierce in our what they call purity? Don't you think that to be so much afraid and averse is a sort of dirtiness?"

She looked at him with startled dark eyes.

"You recoiled away from anything of the sort, and I took the motion from you, and recoiled also, perhaps worse."

There was silence in the room for some time.

"Yes," she said, "it is so."

"There is between us," he said, "all these years of intimacy. I feel naked enough before you. Do you understand?"

"I think so," she answered.

"And you love me?"

She laughed.

"Don't be bitter," he pleaded.

She looked at him and was sorry for him; his eyes were dark with torture. She was sorry for him; it was worse for him to have this deflated love than for herself, who could never be properly mated. He was restless, for ever urging forward and trying to find a way out. He might do as he liked, and have what he liked of her.

"Nay," she said softly, "I am not bitter."

She felt she could bear anything for him; she would suffer for him. She put her hand on his knee as he leaned forward in his chair. He took it and kissed it; but it hurt to do so. He felt he was putting himself aside. He sat there sacrificed to her purity, which felt more like nullity. How could he kiss her hand passionately, when it would drive her away, and leave nothing but pain? Yet slowly he drew her to him and kissed her.

They knew each other too well to pretend anything. As she kissed him, she watched his eyes; they were staring across the room, with a peculiar dark blaze in them that fascinated her. He was perfectly still. She could feel his heart throbbing heavily in his breast.

"What are you thinking about?" she asked.

The blaze in his eyes shuddered, became uncertain.

"I was thinking, all the while, I love you. I have been obstinate."

She sank her head on his breast.

"Yes," she answered.

"That's all," he said, and his voice seemed sure, and his mouth was kissing her throat.

Then she raised her head and looked into his eyes with her full gaze of love. The blaze struggled, seemed to try to get away from her, and then was quenched. He turned his head quickly aside. It was a moment of anguish.

"Kiss me," she whispered.

He shut his eyes, and kissed her, and his arms folded her closer and closer.

When she walked home with him over the fields, he said:

"I am glad I came back to you. I feel so simple with you--as if there was nothing to hide. We will be happy?"

"Yes," she murmured, and the tears came to her eyes.

"Some sort of perversity in our souls," he said, "makes us not want, get away from, the very thing we want. We have to fight against that."

"Yes," she said, and she felt stunned.

As she stood under the drooping-thorn tree, in the darkness by the roadside, he kissed her, and his fingers wandered over her face. In the darkness, where he could not see her but only feel her, his passion flooded him. He clasped her very close.

"Sometime you will have me?" he murmured, hiding his face on her shoulder. It was so difficult.

"Not now," she said.

His hopes and his heart sunk. A dreariness came over him.

"No," he said.

His clasp of her slackened.

"I love to feel your arm THERE!" she said, pressing his arm against her back, where it went round her waist. "It rests me so."

He tightened the pressure of his arm upon the small of her back to rest her.

"We belong to each other," he said.

"Yes."

"Then why shouldn't we belong to each other altogether?"

"But---" she faltered.

"I know it's a lot to ask," he said; "but there's not much risk for you really--not in the Gretchen way. You can trust me there?"

"Oh, I can trust you." The answer came quick and strong. "It's not that--it's not that at all--but---"

"What?"

She hid her face in his neck with a little cry of misery.

"I don't know!" she cried.

She seemed slightly hysterical, but with a sort of horror. His heart died in him.

"You don't think it ugly?" he asked.

"No, not now. You have TAUGHT me it isn't."

"You are afraid?"

She calmed herself hastily.

"Yes, I am only afraid," she said.

He kissed her tenderly.

"Never mind," he said. "You should please yourself."

Suddenly she gripped his arms round her, and clenched her body stiff.

"You SHALL have me," she said, through her shut teeth.

His heart beat up again like fire. He folded her close, and his mouth was on her throat. She could not bear it. She drew away. He disengaged her.

"Won't you be late?" she asked gently.

He sighed, scarcely hearing what she said. She waited, wishing he would go. At last he kissed her quickly and climbed the fence. Looking round he saw the pale blotch of her face down in the darkness under the hanging tree. There was no more of her but this pale blotch.

"Good-bye!" she called softly. She had no body, only a voice and a dim face. He turned away and ran down the road, his fists clenched; and when he came to the wall over the lake he leaned there, almost stunned, looking up the black water.

Miriam plunged home over the meadows. She was not afraid of people, what they might say; but she dreaded the issue with him. Yes, she would let him have her if he insisted; and then, when she thought of it afterwards, her heart went down. He would be disappointed, he would find no satisfaction, and then he would go away. Yet he was so insistent; and over this, which did not seem so all-important to her, was their love to break down. After all, he was only like other men, seeking his satisfaction. Oh, but there was something more in him, something deeper! She could trust to it, in spite of all desires. He said that possession was a great moment in life. All strong emotions concentrated there. Perhaps it was so. There was something divine in it; then she would submit, religiously, to the sacrifice. He should have her. And at the thought her whole body clenched itself involuntarily, hard, as if against something; but Life forced her through this gate of suffering, too, and she would submit. At any rate, it would give him what he wanted, which was her deepest wish. She brooded and brooded and brooded herself towards accepting him.

He courted her now like a lover. Often, when he grew hot, she put his face from her, held it between her hands, and looked in his eyes. He could not meet her gaze. Her dark eyes, full of love, earnest and searching, made him turn away. Not for an instant would she let him forget. Back again he had to torture himself into a sense of his responsibility and hers. Never any relaxing, never any leaving himself to the great hunger and impersonality of passion; he must be brought back to a deliberate, reflective creature. As if from a swoon of passion she caged him back to the littleness, the personal relationship. He could not bear it. "Leave me alone--leave me alone!" he wanted to cry; but she wanted him to look at her with eyes full of love. His eyes, full of the dark, impersonal fire of desire, did not belong to her.

There was a great crop of cherries at the farm. The trees at the back of the house, very large and tall, hung thick with scarlet and crimson drops, under the dark leaves. Paul and Edgar were gathering the fruit one evening. It had been a hot day, and now the clouds were rolling in the sky, dark and warm. Paul combed high in the tree, above the scarlet roofs of the buildings. The wind, moaning steadily, made the whole tree rock with a subtle, thrilling motion that stirred the blood. The young man, perched insecurely in the slender branches, rocked till he felt slightly drunk, reached down the boughs, where the scarlet beady cherries hung thick underneath, and tore off handful after handful of the sleek, cool-fleshed fruit. Cherries touched his ears and his neck as he stretched forward, their chill finger-tips sending a flash down his blood. All shades of red, from a golden vermilion to a rich crimson, glowed and met his eyes under a darkness of leaves.

The sun, going down, suddenly caught the broken clouds. Immense piles of gold flared out in the south-east, heaped in soft, glowing yellow right up the sky. The world, till now dusk and grey, reflected the gold glow, astonished. Everywhere the trees, and the grass, and the far-off water, seemed roused from the twilight and shining.

Miriam came out wondering.

"Oh!" Paul heard her mellow voice call, "isn't it wonderful?"

He looked down. There was a faint gold glimmer on her face, that looked very soft, turned up to him.

"How high you are!" she said.

Beside her, on the rhubarb leaves, were four dead birds, thieves that had been shot. Paul saw some cherry stones hanging quite bleached, like skeletons, picked clear of flesh. He looked down again to Miriam.

"Clouds are on fire," he said.

"Beautiful!" she cried.

She seemed so small, so soft, so tender, down there. He threw a handful of cherries at her. She was startled and frightened. He laughed with a low, chuckling sound, and pelted her. She ran for shelter, picking up some cherries. Two fine red pairs she hung over her ears; then she looked up again.

"Haven't you got enough?" she asked.

"Nearly. It is like being on a ship up here."

"And how long will you stay?"

"While the sunset lasts."

She went to the fence and sat there, watching the gold clouds fall to pieces, and go in immense, rose-coloured ruin towards the darkness. Gold flamed to scarlet, like pain in its intense brightness. Then the scarlet sank to rose, and rose to crimson, and quickly the passion went out of the sky. All the world was dark grey. Paul scrambled quickly down with his basket, tearing his shirt-sleeve as he did so.

"They are lovely," said Miriam, fingering the cherries.

"I've torn my sleeve," he answered.

She took the three-cornered rip, saying:

"I shall have to mend it." It was near the shoulder. She put her fingers through the tear. "How warm!" she said.

He laughed. There was a new, strange note in his voice, one that made her pant.

"Shall we stay out?" he said.

"Won't it rain?" she asked.

"No, let us walk a little way."

They went down the fields and into the thick plantation of trees and pines.

"Shall we go in among the trees?" he asked.

"Do you want to?"

"Yes."

It was very dark among the firs, and the sharp spines pricked her face. She was afraid. Paul was silent and strange.

"I like the darkness," he said. "I wish it were thicker--good, thick darkness."

He seemed to be almost unaware of her as a person: she was only to him then a woman. She was afraid.

He stood against a pine-tree trunk and took her in his arms. She relinquished herself to him, but it was a sacrifice in which she felt something of horror. This thick-voiced, oblivious man was a stranger to her.

Later it began to rain. The pine-trees smelled very strong. Paul lay with his head on the ground, on the dead pine needles, listening to the sharp hiss of the rain--a steady, keen noise. His heart was down, very heavy. Now he realised that she had not been with him all the time, that her soul had stood apart, in a sort of horror. He was physically at rest, but no more. Very dreary at heart, very sad, and very tender, his fingers wandered over her face pitifully. Now again she loved him deeply. He was tender and beautiful.

"The rain!" he said.

"Yes--is it coming on you?"

She put her hands over him, on his hair, on his shoulders, to feel if the raindrops fell on him. She loved him dearly. He, as he lay with his face on the dead pine-leaves, felt extraordinarily quiet. He did not mind if the raindrops came on him: he would have lain and got wet through: he felt as if nothing mattered, as if his living were smeared away into the beyond, near and quite lovable. This strange, gentle reaching-out to death was new to him.

"We must go," said Miriam.

"Yes," he answered, but did not move.

To him now, life seemed a shadow, day a white shadow; night, and death, and stillness, and inaction, this seemed like BEING. To be alive, to be urgent and insistent--that was NOT-TO-BE. The highest of all was to melt out into the darkness and sway there, identified with the great Being.

"The rain is coming in on us," said Miriam.

He rose, and assisted her.

"It is a pity," he said.

"What?"

"To have to go. I feel so still."

"Still!" she repeated.

"Stiller than I have ever been in my life."

He was walking with his hand in hers. She pressed his fingers, feeling a slight fear. Now he seemed beyond her; she had a fear lest she should lose him.

"The fir-trees are like presences on the darkness: each one only a presence."

She was afraid, and said nothing.

"A sort of hush: the whole night wondering and asleep: I suppose that's what we do in death--sleep in wonder."

She had been afraid before of the brute in him: now of the mystic. She trod beside him in silence. The rain fell with a heavy "Hush!" on the trees. At last they gained the cartshed.

"Let us stay here awhile," he said.

There was a sound of rain everywhere, smothering everything.

"I feel so strange and still," he said; "along with everything."

"Ay," she answered patiently.

He seemed again unaware of her, though he held her hand close.

"To be rid of our individuality, which is our will, which is our effort--to live effortless, a kind of curious sleep--that is very beautiful, I think; that is our after-life--our immortality."

"Yes?"

"Yes--and very beautiful to have."

"You don't usually say that."

"No."

In a while they went indoors. Everybody looked at them curiously. He still kept the quiet, heavy look in his eyes, the stillness in his voice. Instinctively, they all left him alone.

About this time Miriam's grandmother, who lived in a tiny cottage in Woodlinton, fell ill, and the girl was sent to keep house. It was a beautiful little place. The cottage had a big garden in front, with red brick walls, against which the plum trees were nailed. At the back another garden was separated from the fields by a tall old hedge. It was very pretty. Miriam had not much to do, so she found time for her beloved reading, and for writing little introspective pieces which interested her.

At the holiday-time her grandmother, being better, was driven to Derby to stay with her daughter for a day or two. She was a crotchety old lady, and might return the second day or the third; so Miriam stayed alone in the cottage, which also pleased her.

Paul used often to cycle over, and they had as a rule peaceful and happy times. He did not embarrass her much; but then on the Monday of the holiday he was to spend a whole day with her.

It was perfect weather. He left his mother, telling her where he was going. She would be alone all the day. It cast a shadow over him; but he had three days that were all his own, when he was going to do as he liked. It was sweet to rush through the morning lanes on his bicycle.

He got to the cottage at about eleven o'clock. Miriam was busy preparing dinner. She looked so perfectly in keeping with the little kitchen, ruddy and busy. He kissed her and sat down to watch. The room was small and cosy. The sofa was covered all over with a sort of linen in squares of red and pale blue, old, much washed, but pretty. There was a stuffed owl in a case over a corner cupboard. The sunlight came through the leaves of the scented geraniums in the window. She was cooking a chicken in his honour. It was their cottage for the day, and they were man and wife. He beat the eggs for her and peeled the potatoes. He thought she gave a feeling of home almost like his mother; and no one could look more beautiful, with her tumbled curls, when she was flushed from the fire.

The dinner was a great success. Like a young husband, he carved. They talked all the time with unflagging zest. Then he wiped the dishes she had washed, and they went out down the fields. There was a bright little brook that ran into a bog at the foot of a very steep bank. Here they wandered, picking still a few marsh-marigolds and many big blue forget-me-nots. Then she sat on the bank with her hands full of flowers, mostly golden water-blobs. As she put her face down into the marigolds, it was all overcast with a yellow shine.

"Your face is bright," he said, "like a transfiguration."

She looked at him, questioning. He laughed pleadingly to her, laying his hands on hers. Then he kissed her fingers, then her face.

The world was all steeped in sunshine, and quite still, yet not asleep, but quivering with a kind of expectancy.

"I have never seen anything more beautiful than this," he said. He held her hand fast all the time.

"And the water singing to itself as it runs--do you love it?" She looked at him full of love. His eyes were very dark, very bright.

"Don't you think it's a great day?" he asked.

She murmured her assent. She WAS happy, and he saw it.

"And our day--just between us," he said.

They lingered a little while. Then they stood up upon the sweet thyme, and he looked down at her simply.

"Will you come?" he asked.

They went back to the house, hand in hand, in silence. The chickens came scampering down the path to her. He locked the door, and they had the little house to themselves.

He never forgot seeing her as she lay on the bed, when he was unfastening his collar. First he saw only her beauty, and was blind with it. She had the most beautiful body he had ever imagined. He stood unable to move or speak, looking at her, his face half-smiling with wonder. And then he wanted her, but as he went forward to her, her hands lifted in a little pleading movement, and he looked at her face, and stopped. Her big brown eyes were watching him, still and resigned and loving; she lay as if she had given herself up to sacrifice: there was her body for him; but the look at the back of her eyes, like a creature awaiting immolation, arrested him, and all his blood fell back.

"You are sure you want me?" he asked, as if a cold shadow had come over him.

"Yes, quite sure."

She was very quiet, very calm. She only realised that she was doing something for him. He could hardly bear it. She lay to be sacrificed for him because she loved him so much. And he had to sacrifice her. For a second, he wished he were sexless or dead. Then he shut his eyes again to her, and his blood beat back again.

And afterwards he loved her--loved her to the last fibre of his being. He loved her. But he wanted, somehow, to cry. There was something he could not bear for her sake. He stayed with her till quite late at night. As he rode home he felt that he was finally initiated. He was a youth no longer. But why had he the dull pain in his soul? Why did the thought of death, the after-life, seem so sweet and consoling?

He spent the week with Miriam, and wore her out with his passion before it was gone. He had always, almost wilfully, to put her out of count, and act from the brute strength of his own feelings. And he could not do it often, and there remained afterwards always the sense of failure and of death. If he were really with her, he had to put aside himself and his desire. If he would have her, he had to put her aside.

"When I come to you," he asked her, his eyes dark with pain and shame, "you don't really want me, do you?"

"Ah, yes!" she replied quickly.

He looked at her.

"Nay," he said.

She began to tremble.

"You see," she said, taking his face and shutting it out against her shoulder--"you see--as we are--how can I get used to you? It would come all right if we were married."

He lifted her head, and looked at her.

"You mean, now, it is always too much shock?"

"Yes--and---"

"You are always clenched against me."

She was trembling with agitation.

"You see," she said, "I'm not used to the thought---"

"You are lately," he said.

"But all my life. Mother said to me: 'There is one thing in marriage that is always dreadful, but you have to bear it.' And I believed it."

"And still believe it," he said.

"No!" she cried hastily. "I believe, as you do, that loving, even in THAT way, is the high-water mark of living."

"That doesn't alter the fact that you never want it."

"No," she said, taking his head in her arms and rocking in despair. "Don't say so! You don't understand." She rocked with pain. "Don't I want your children?"

"But not me."

"How can you say so? But we must be married to have children---"

"Shall we be married, then? I want you to have my children."

He kissed her hand reverently. She pondered sadly, watching him.

"We are too young," she said at length.

"Twenty-four and twenty-three---"

"Not yet," she pleaded, as she rocked herself in distress.

"When you will," he said.

She bowed her head gravely. The tone of hopelessness in which he said these things grieved her deeply. It had always been a failure between them. Tacitly, she acquiesced in what he felt.

And after a week of love he said to his mother suddenly one Sunday night, just as they were going to bed:

"I shan't go so much to Miriam's, mother."

She was surprised, but she would not ask him anything.

"You please yourself," she said.

So he went to bed. But there was a new quietness about him which she had wondered at. She almost guessed. She would leave him alone, however. Precipitation might spoil things. She watched him in his loneliness, wondering where he would end. He was sick, and much too quiet for him. There was a perpetual little knitting of his brows, such as she had seen when he was a small baby, and which had been gone for many years. Now it was the same again. And she could do nothing for him. He had to go on alone, make his own way.

He continued faithful to Miriam. For one day he had loved her utterly. But it never came again. The sense of failure grew stronger. At first it was only a sadness. Then he began to feel he could not go on. He wanted to run, to go abroad, anything. Gradually he ceased to ask her to have him. Instead of drawing them together, it put them apart. And then he realised, consciously, that it was no good. It was useless trying: it would never be a success between them.

For some months he had seen very little of Clara. They had occasionally walked out for half an hour at dinner-time. But he always reserved himself for Miriam. With Clara, however, his brow cleared, and he was gay again. She treated him indulgently, as if he were a child. He thought he did not mind. But deep below the surface it piqued him.

Sometimes Miriam said:

"What about Clara? I hear nothing of her lately."

"I walked with her about twenty minutes yesterday," he replied.

"And what did she talk about?"

"I don't know. I suppose I did all the jawing--I usually do. I think I was telling her about the strike, and how the women took it."

"Yes."

So he gave the account of himself.

But insidiously, without his knowing it, the warmth he felt for Clara drew him away from Miriam, for whom he felt responsible, and to whom he felt he belonged. He thought he was being quite faithful to her. It was not easy to estimate exactly the strength and warmth of one's feelings for a woman till they have run away with one.

He began to give more time to his men friends. There was Jessop, at the art school; Swain, who was chemistry demonstrator at the university; Newton, who was a teacher; besides Edgar and Miriam's younger brothers. Pleading work, he sketched and studied with Jessop. He called in the university for Swain, and the two went "down town" together. Having come home in the train with Newton, he called and had a game of billiards with him in the Moon and Stars. If he gave to Miriam the excuse of his men friends, he felt quite justified. His mother began to be relieved. He always told her where he had been.

During the summer Clara wore sometimes a dress of soft cotton stuff with loose sleeves. When she lifted her hands, her sleeves fell back, and her beautiful strong arms shone out.

"Half a minute," he cried. "Hold your arm still."

He made sketches of her hand and arm, and the drawings contained some of the fascination the real thing had for him. Miriam, who always went scrupulously through his books and papers, saw the drawings.

"I think Clara has such beautiful arms," he said.

"Yes! When did you draw them?"

"On Tuesday, in the work-room. You know, I've got a corner where I can work. Often I can do every single thing they need in the department, before dinner. Then I work for myself in the afternoon, and just see to things at night."

"Yes," she said, turning the leaves of his sketch-book.

Frequently he hated Miriam. He hated her as she bent forward and pored over his things. He hated her way of patiently casting him up, as if he were an endless psychological account. When he was with her, he hated her for having got him, and yet not got him, and he tortured her. She took all and gave nothing, he said. At least, she gave no living warmth. She was never alive, and giving off life. Looking for her was like looking for something which did not exist. She was only his conscience, not his mate. He hated her violently, and was more cruel to her. They dragged on till the next summer. He saw more and more of Clara.

At last he spoke. He had been sitting working at home one evening. There was between him and his mother a peculiar condition of people frankly finding fault with each other. Mrs. Morel was strong on her feet again. He was not going to stick to Miriam. Very well; then she would stand aloof till he said something. It had been coming a long time, this bursting of the storm in him, when he would come back to her. This evening there was between them a peculiar condition of suspense. He worked feverishly and mechanically, so that he could escape from himself. It grew late. Through the open door, stealthily, came the scent of madonna lilies, almost as if it were prowling abroad. Suddenly he got up and went out of doors.

The beauty of the night made him want to shout. A half-moon, dusky gold, was sinking behind the black sycamore at the end of the garden, making the sky dull purple with its glow. Nearer, a dim white fence of lilies went across the garden, and the air all round seemed to stir with scent, as if it were alive. He went across the bed of pinks, whose keen perfume came sharply across the rocking, heavy scent of the lilies, and stood alongside the white barrier of flowers. They flagged all loose, as if they were panting. The scent made him drunk. He went down to the field to watch the moon sink under.

A corncrake in the hay-close called insistently. The moon slid quite quickly downwards, growing more flushed. Behind him the great flowers leaned as if they were calling. And then, like a shock, he caught another perfume, something raw and coarse. Hunting round, he found the purple iris, touched their fleshy throats and their dark, grasping hands. At any rate, he had found something. They stood stiff in the darkness. Their scent was brutal. The moon was melting down upon the crest of the hill. It was gone; all was dark. The corncrake called still.

Breaking off a pink, he suddenly went indoors.

"Come, my boy," said his mother. "I'm sure it's time you went to bed."

He stood with the pink against his lips.

"I shall break off with Miriam, mother," he answered calmly.

She looked up at him over her spectacles. He was staring back at her, unswerving. She met his eyes for a moment, then took off her glasses. He was white. The male was up in him, dominant. She did not want to see him too clearly.

"But I thought---" she began.

"Well," he answered, "I don't love her. I don't want to marry her--so I shall have done."

"But," exclaimed his mother, amazed, "I thought lately you had made up your mind to have her, and so I said nothing."

"I had--I wanted to--but now I don't want. It's no good. I shall break off on Sunday. I ought to, oughtn't I?"

"You know best. You know I said so long ago."

"I can't help that now. I shall break off on Sunday."

"Well," said his mother, "I think it will be best. But lately I decided you had made up your mind to have her, so I said nothing, and should have said nothing. But I say as I have always said, I DON'T think she is suited to you."

"On Sunday I break off," he said, smelling the pink. He put the flower in his mouth. Unthinking, he bared his teeth, closed them on the blossom slowly, and had a mouthful of petals. These he spat into the fire, kissed his mother, and went to bed.

On Sunday he went up to the farm in the early afternoon. He had written Miriam that they would walk over the fields to Hucknall. His mother was very tender with him. He said nothing. But she saw the effort it was costing. The peculiar set look on his face stilled her.

"Never mind, my son," she said. "You will be so much better when it is all over. "

Paul glanced swiftly at his mother in surprise and resentment. He did not want sympathy.

Miriam met him at the lane-end. She was wearing a new dress of figured muslin that had short sleeves. Those short sleeves, and Miriam's brown-skinned arms beneath them--such pitiful, resigned arms--gave him so much pain that they helped to make him cruel. She had made herself look so beautiful and fresh for him. She seemed to blossom for him alone. Every time he looked at her--a mature young woman now, and beautiful in her new dress--it hurt so much that his heart seemed almost to be bursting with the restraint he put on it. But he had decided, and it was irrevocable.

On the hills they sat down, and he lay with his head in her lap, whilst she fingered his hair. She knew that "he was not there," as she put it. Often, when she had him with her, she looked for him, and could not find him. But this afternoon she was not prepared.

It was nearly five o'clock when he told her. They were sitting on the bank of a stream, where the lip of turf hung over a hollow bank of yellow earth, and he was hacking away with a stick, as he did when he was perturbed and cruel.

"I have been thinking," he said, "we ought to break off."

"Why?" she cried in surprise.

"Because it's no good going on."

"Why is it no good?"

"It isn't. I don't want to marry. I don't want ever to marry. And if we're not going to marry, it's no good going on."

"But why do you say this now?"

"Because I've made up my mind."

"And what about these last months, and the things you told me then?"

"I can't help it! I don't want to go on."

"You don't want any more of me?"

"I want us to break off--you be free of me, I free of you."

"And what about these last months?"

"I don't know. I've not told you anything but what I thought was true."

"Then why are you different now?"

"I'm not--I'm the same--only I know it's no good going on."

"You haven't told me why it's no good."

"Because I don't want to go on--and I don't want to marry."

"How many times have you offered to marry me, and I wouldn't?"

"I know; but I want us to break off."

There was silence for a moment or two, while he dug viciously at the earth. She bent her head, pondering. He was an unreasonable child. He was like an infant which, when it has drunk its fill, throws away and smashes the cup. She looked at him, feeling she could get hold of him and WRING some consistency out of him. But she was helpless. Then she cried:

"I have said you were only fourteen--you are only FOUR!"

He still dug at the earth viciously. He heard.

"You are a child of four," she repeated in her anger.

He did not answer, but said in his heart: "All right; if I'm a child of four, what do you want me for? I don't want another mother." But he said nothing to her, and there was silence.

"And have you told your people?" she asked.

"I have told my mother."

There was another long interval of silence.

"Then what do you WANT?" she asked.

"Why, I want us to separate. We have lived on each other all these years; now let us stop. I will go my own way without you, and you will go your way without me. You will have an independent life of your own then."

There was in it some truth that, in spite of her bitterness, she could not help registering. She knew she felt in a sort of bondage to him, which she hated because she could not control it. She hated her love for him from the moment it grew too strong for her. And, deep down, she had hated him because she loved him and he dominated her. She had resisted his domination. She had fought to keep herself free of him in the last issue. And she was free of him, even more than he of her.

"And," he continued, "we shall always be more or less each other's work. You have done a lot for me, I for you. Now let us start and live by ourselves."

"What do you want to do?" she asked.

"Nothing--only to be free," he answered.

She, however, knew in her heart that Clara's influence was over him to liberate him. But she said nothing.

"And what have I to tell my mother?" she asked.

"I told my mother," he answered, "that I was breaking off--clean and altogether."

"I shall not tell them at home," she said.

Frowning, "You please yourself," he said.

He knew he had landed her in a nasty hole, and was leaving her in the lurch. It angered him.

"Tell them you wouldn't and won't marry me, and have broken off," he said. "It's true enough."

She bit her finger moodily. She thought over their whole affair. She had known it would come to this; she had seen it all along. It chimed with her bitter expectation.

"Always--it has always been so!" she cried. "It has been one long battle between us--you fighting away from me."

It came from her unawares, like a flash of lightning. The man's heart stood still. Was this how she saw it?

"But we've had SOME perfect hours, SOME perfect times, when we were together!" he pleaded.

"Never!" she cried; "never! It has always been you fighting me off."

"Not always--not at first!" he pleaded.

"Always, from the very beginning--always the same!"

She had finished, but she had done enough. He sat aghast. He had wanted to say: "It has been good, but it is at an end." And she--she whose love he had believed in when he had despised himself--denied that their love had ever been love. "He had always fought away from her?" Then it had been monstrous. There had never been anything really between them; all the time he had been imagining something where there was nothing. And she had known. She had known so much, and had told him so little. She had known all the time. All the time this was at the bottom of her!

He sat silent in bitterness. At last the whole affair appeared in a cynical aspect to him. She had really played with him, not he with her. She had hidden all her condemnation from him, had flattered him, and despised him. She despised him now. He grew intellectual and cruel.

"You ought to marry a man who worships you," he said; "then you could do as you liked with him. Plenty of men will worship you, if you get on the private side of their natures. You ought to marry one such. They would never fight you off."

"Thank you!" she said. "But don't advise me to marry someone else any more. You've done it before."

"Very well," he said; "I will say no more."

He sat still, feeling as if he had had a blow, instead of giving one. Their eight years of friendship and love, THE eight years of his life, were nullified.

"When did you think of this?" she asked.

"I thought definitely on Thursday night."

"I knew it was coming," she said.

That pleased him bitterly. "Oh, very well! If she knew then it doesn't come as a surprise to her," he thought.

"And have you said anything to Clara?" she asked.

"No; but I shall tell her now."

There was a silence.

"Do you remember the things you said this time last year, in my grandmother's house--nay last month even?"

"Yes," he said; "I do! And I meant them! I can't help that it's failed."

"It has failed because you want something else."

"It would have failed whether or not. YOU never believed in me."

She laughed strangely.

He sat in silence. He was full of a feeling that she had deceived him. She had despised him when he thought she worshipped him. She had let him say wrong things, and had not contradicted him. She had let him fight alone. But it stuck in his throat that she had despised him whilst he thought she worshipped him. She should have told him when she found fault with him. She had not played fair. He hated her. All these years she had treated him as if he were a hero, and thought of him secretly as an infant, a foolish child. Then why had she left the foolish child to his folly? His heart was hard against her.

She sat full of bitterness. She had known--oh, well she had known! All the time he was away from her she had summed him up, seen his littleness, his meanness, and his folly. Even she had guarded her soul against him. She was not overthrown, not prostrated, not even much hurt. She had known. Only why, as he sat there, had he still this strange dominance over her? His very movements fascinated her as if she were hypnotised by him. Yet he was despicable, false, inconsistent, and mean. Why this bondage for her? Why was it the movement of his arm stirred her as nothing else in the world could? Why was she fastened to him? Why, even now, if he looked at her and commanded her, would she have to obey? She would obey him in his trifling commands. But once he was obeyed, then she had him in her power, she knew, to lead him where she would. She was sure of herself. Only, this new influence! Ah, he was not a man! He was a baby that cries for the newest toy. And all the attachment of his soul would not keep him. Very well, he would have to go. But he would come back when he had tired of his new sensation.

He hacked at the earth till she was fretted to death. She rose. He sat flinging lumps of earth in the stream.

"We will go and have tea here?" he asked.

"Yes," she answered.

They chattered over irrelevant subjects during tea. He held forth on the love of ornament--the cottage parlour moved him thereto--and its connection with aesthetics. She was cold and quiet. As they walked home, she asked:

"And we shall not see each other?"

"No--or rarely," he answered.

"Nor write?" she asked, almost sarcastically.

"As you will," he answered. "We're not strangers--never should be, whatever happened. I will write to you now and again. You please yourself."

"I see!" she answered cuttingly.

But he was at that stage at which nothing else hurts. He had made a great cleavage in his life. He had had a great shock when she had told him their love had been always a conflict. Nothing more mattered. If it never had been much, there was no need to make a fuss that it was ended.

He left her at the lane-end. As she went home, solitary, in her new frock, having her people to face at the other end, he stood still with shame and pain in the highroad, thinking of the suffering he caused her.

In the reaction towards restoring his self-esteem, he went into the Willow Tree for a drink. There were four girls who had been out for the day, drinking a modest glass of port. They had some chocolates on the table. Paul sat near with his whisky. He noticed the girls whispering and nudging. Presently one, a bonny dark hussy, leaned to him and said:

"Have a chocolate?"

The others laughed loudly at her impudence.

"All right," said Paul. "Give me a hard one--nut. I don't like creams."

"Here you are, then," said the girl; "here's an almond for you."

She held the sweet between her fingers. He opened his mouth. She popped it in, and blushed.

"You ARE nice!" he said.

"Well," she answered, "we thought you looked overcast, and they dared me offer you a chocolate."

"I don't mind if I have another--another sort," he said.

And presently they were all laughing together.

It was nine o'clock when he got home, falling dark. He entered the house in silence. His mother, who had been waiting, rose anxiously.

"I told her," he said.

"I'm glad," replied the mother, with great relief.

He hung up his cap wearily.

"I said we'd have done altogether," he said.

"That's right, my son," said the mother. "It's hard for her now, but best in the long run. I know. You weren't suited for her."

He laughed shakily as he sat down.

"I've had such a lark with some girls in a pub," he said.

His mother looked at him. He had forgotten Miriam now. He told her about the girls in the Willow Tree. Mrs. Morel looked at him. It seemed unreal, his gaiety. At the back of it was too much horror and misery.

"Now have some supper," she said very gently.

Afterwards he said wistfully:

"She never thought she'd have me, mother, not from the first, and so she's not disappointed."

"I'm afraid," said his mother, "she doesn't give up hopes of you yet."

"No," he said, "perhaps not."

"You'll find it's better to have done," she said.

"I don't know," he said desperately.

"Well, leave her alone," replied his mother. So he left her, and she was alone. Very few people cared for her, and she for very few people. She remained alone with herself, waiting.

随着春天的到来,保罗又像先前一样的狂躁,内心冲突激烈。现在,他知道他一定得去找米丽亚姆了。不过,他为什么这么不情愿呢?他对自己说,这只是因为他俩过于看重贞节,谁也无法冲破它。他本来可以娶她的,但由于家人从中阻挠,这事就变得非常棘手。再加上他本人也不想结婚。结婚是为了生活,他并不认为他和她已经是亲密的友伴就必须结成夫妻。他并没有感到自己需要和米丽亚姆结婚,他倒是希望自己有这种想法,只要他能感到娶她并占有她的欢愉,他情愿献出自己的头颅来交换。那么,究竟为什么他丝毫没有这种欲望呢?因为有着某种障碍。什么障碍呢?障碍就是肉体上的束缚。他羞怯地逃避肉体上的接触。但这是为什么呢?和她在一起,他就感觉到内心仿佛被捆绑住了似的,无法挣脱束缚去爱她,他的内心有什么东西在挣扎着,可始终无法接近她,为什么呢?她爱他。克莱拉说她甚至想要他呢。那么,为什么他就不能去接近她,同她求欢做爱,亲吻她呢?当他们并肩而行,她怯怯地勾住他的胳膊,他为何因害怕产生邪念而畏缩起来呢?他欠着她的许多情,他想把自己献给她。也许这种退缩和逃避就是初恋中过分的害羞吧。他对她并没有一点厌恶。恰恰相反,他心里有一股强烈的欲望跟比它更为强烈的羞怯感和贞操观念进行搏斗,仿佛贞操观念是一种正面力量,它战胜其余两者。和她相处时他觉得很难克服这种童贞的羞怯,然而他们相处得极为亲密,而且只有和她在一起,他才能从容地打破这种状态。他欠着她的情。因此如果一切都顺利,他们就可以结婚。不过,除非他感受到婚姻无穷乐趣,否则,他不会结婚的——决不会。要不他就没险去见母亲。对他来说,牺牲自己,违愿地去结婚,那简直是堕落,会毁了他自己的一生,使婚姻失去了意义。他还是要尽力而为的。

他对米丽亚姆充满强烈的感情。她总是一副忧伤的神情,神游于她的宗教信仰中;而他几乎就是她心目中的信仰。他不忍心让她失望。只要他们努力,一切都会好起来的。

他看看周围他所认识的品行端正的男人中有许多跟他一样,被无法打破的童贞观念所束缚。他们对待自己所钟情的女人都格外小心,宁肯一辈子不娶,也不愿伤害她们,让她们受委屈。由于他们母亲的神圣的女性情感曾遭受到他们父亲的粗暴伤害,作为这些母亲的儿子,他们就显得超常的羞怯。他们可以轻易地克制自己,而不愿受到女性的责备,因为每位女性都像他们的母亲,他们总是悉心地替母亲考虑着。他们情愿自己忍受独守的煎熬也不愿给别人带来痛苦。

保罗又回到了米丽亚姆身边。当他望着她时,她神情中的什么东西竟会使他热泪盈眶。一天,她在唱歌,他就站在她身后,安妮用钢琴伴奏。米丽亚姆唱歌时,双唇看起来象修女对着上天歌唱一样,显得那么绝望。这让他想起博蒂切利画的《圣母像》里站在圣母身边唱歌人的嘴唇和眼睛,那么圣洁。于是他的内心又痛苦起来,像被烧红的烙铁烫过似的热辣辣的痛。他为什么还向她要求别的什么呢?为什么他的热血与她相逆呢?只要他能对她始终温柔有礼,在沉思和神圣的梦想中与她同呼吸共患难,他宁愿失去自己的右手。伤害她是不公平的。她似乎永远是一位童贞少女,每当他想起他的母亲,就仿佛看见一位睁着褐色大眼的少女,她几乎在恐慌和震惊中失去了童贞。尽管她生了七个孩子,但她那少女的童贞并未完全失去,因为这些孩子都是在违背她的意愿的情况下出生的,就好像他们不是她生的,而强加加在她身上的。所以,她从来谈不上对他们放任自流,因为她从来不曾拥有过他们。

莫瑞尔太太看到保罗又如此频繁地去找米丽亚姆,不禁十分吃惊。他没有告诉母亲,既不解释,也不开脱。如果他回来晚了,母亲责备了他,他就皱起眉头,用蛮横的口气对待她。

“我什么时候愿意回家就什么时候回,我已经长大了。”

“她非得把你留这么晚吗?”

“是我自己愿意的。”他答道。

“那她让你待下去?很好。”她说。

于是,她只好给他留着门上床睡觉去了,可是她躺在床上,竖着耳朵听着,直到他很晚回来才能入睡。他又回到米丽亚姆身边了,这对她来说再痛苦不过了,然而,她也认识到再怎么干涉也是徒劳的。他现在是以一个男人的身分而不再是一个小孩去威利农场的。她没有权力管束他。母子之间出现了隔阂。他几乎什么也不告诉她。尽管他对她这样冷漠,她还是一如既往等他,为他做饭,心甘情愿地服侍他,不过她的脸又变得冷冰冰的,像戴了一副面具似的。如今,除了家务之外,她就无事可干。她不能原谅他把整个心都给了米丽亚姆。米丽亚姆扼杀了他心中的快乐和温暖。他曾是一个快乐的小伙子,内心充满温情,可他现在却变得冷酷无情,脾气越来越暴躁,心情心越来越烦闷。这使她想起威廉,保罗的情况比他更糟糕。他干起事来更为专注,更想把自己的幻想付诸行动。母亲知道他因迫切的需要一个女人而受苦,她眼看着他又回到米丽亚姆的身边去。要是他已经下定了决心,那么任何力量都改变不了他。莫瑞尔太太已经心力疲惫,终于对他放任自流,她已经完成了她的使命,现在她成了绊脚石了。

他仍然一意孤行。他多少也明白一些母亲的心情。可这反而让他心肠更硬。他对她冷若冰霜,就如同对自己的健康完全漠视一样。很快他的健康愈来愈坏,但他仍然坚持着。

一个晚上,在威利农场,他仰躺在摇椅里,这几个星期来,他一直跟米丽亚姆谈天,然而始终没有涉及到关键。这时,他突然开口道:

“我快二十四岁了。”

她正在沉思着什么,听了这话突然吃惊地抬起头来。

“不错,你为什么说这个?”

屋里被一种令她害怕的气氛笼罩着。

“托马斯·莫尔爵士说,人到了二十四岁就可以结婚。”

她古怪地笑着说:

“这不需要托马斯·莫尔批准啊?”

“不是,可是一个人到了这个年龄也该结婚。”

“嗳。”她沉思地回答,等待他往下说。

“我不能娶你,”他继续慢慢地说,“现在不行,因为我们没有钱,而家里又靠我养活。”

她坐那儿,猜测着他要说些什么。

“但是我现在就想结婚——”

“你想结婚?”她重复了一句。

“娶个女人——你知道我是什么意思。”

她没有吭声。

“现在我终于下决心要结婚了。”他说。

“嗳。”她答道。

“你爱我吗?”

她苦笑了。

“你干嘛羞耻啊?”他说,“当着上帝的面你都不羞耻,当着几人的面有什么好羞耻的呢?”

“不,”她深沉地回答,“我并没有羞耻。”

“你感到羞耻了,”他有些痛若地回答,“这都是我不好。不过你也知道,我也没有办法——确实没办法——你知道的,对不对?”

“我知道你是没有办法。”她说道。

“我非常爱你——但这爱里还欠缺点什么东西。”

“欠缺什么?”她看着他问道。

“哦,是我心里欠缺一些东西!我才应当感到羞耻——我像个精神上的残废。我感到羞耻,真痛昔。但是为什么这样啊!”

“我不知道。”米丽亚姆答道。

“我也不知道,”他重复着,“你难道不觉得我们有太多别人所谓的纯洁吗?你难道不觉得这样什么都害怕,什么都嫌弃,反而是一种肮脏吗?”

她瞪着那双吃惊的黑眼睛望着他。

“你总是逃避这类事,我受到你的影响,也唯恐避之不及,这或许会更糟。”

屋里一阵沉默。

“是的,”她说,“是这样。”

“这么多年来,”他接着说,“我们之间一直非常亲密,我在你面前毫无掩饰地袒露自己你明白吗?”

“我也这么想。”她答道。

“那你爱我吗?”

她笑了。

“不要嘲笑人。”他恳求道。

她望着他,有点替他难过,他的眼睛充满痛苦,黯淡无光。她替他难过,让他承受这种畸形的爱比让她自己承受更加有害,她不是他适合的伴侣。他坐立不安,总是急于找一条可以任意发泄的出路。他可以干自己想干的事情从她身上得到她想得到的东西。

“不,”她柔声地说,“我并没有嘲笑。”

她觉得自己可以为他忍受一切,愿意为他而受苦。他坐在椅子上,身子往前倾着,她把手放在了他的膝上。他拿起她的手吻了一下,不过这么做使他心里感到痛苦。他觉得这是把自己当做局外人。他坐那里为她的纯洁做出牺牲,这种无谓的牺牲。他怎么能充满深情地吻她的手呢?这只会把她逼走,而留下痛苦。但他还是慢慢地把她拉过来,吻了她。

他们互相太了解了,任何掩饰都是徒劳无益。当她吻他的时候,注视着他的眼睛,只见他凝视着屋子对面,那种古怪的炽热的眼神令她着迷。他纹丝不动。她可以感觉到他的心在胸膛里沉重地怦怦跳动着。

“你在想什么?”她问。

他那炽热的眼神问了一下,变得捉摸不定。

“我一直在想,我对你的爱是坚定不移的。”

她把头埋在他的怀里。

“嗯。”她应了一声。

“就是这样。”他说,声音里似乎充满了信心。他吻着她的脖子。

她抬起头来,那双含情脉脉的眼睛注视着他的眼睛,只见那炽热的眼神跃动着,仿佛竭力想避开她,随之平静下来。他赶紧把头转到一边。这是非常痛苦的一刻。

“吻我。”她低声说。

他闭上了眼睛,吻了她,两臂越来越紧地搂着她。

当他俩一起穿过田野回家时,他说:

“我真高兴又回到你的身边。和你在一起我感到很单纯——就好像没有什么可以隐瞒的,我们会幸福吗?”

“会的。”她喃喃地说,热泪涌了出来。

“在我们内心深处有种荒谬的东西,”他说,“它强迫我们不敢接受自身所需要的东西,甚至唯恐避之不及,我们必须跟它斗争。”

“是的。”她说,随之心里感到吃惊。

她站在路边荆棘树下阴影里,他吻着她,手指在她的脸上轻轻地抚摸着。黑暗中,他看不见她,只能触摸到她的存在,他不禁情欲亢奋,紧紧地搂着她。

“你总有一天会要我的,是吗?”他把脸埋在她的肩头,喃喃地说。这话太难说了。

“现在不行。”她说。

他的希望和他的心一起往下沉,顿时感到意气消沉。

“不行?”他说。

他松开了搂着她的双手。

“我喜欢你的胳膊搂着我!”她说着后背紧紧地贴着搂她的胳膊,“这样我感到舒服。”

他紧紧地搂住她的腰,让她靠着。

“我们彼此属于对方。”他说。

“是的。”

“那为什么我们不能完全属于对方呢?”

“但是——”她结结巴巴,不知所云。

“我知道这要求太过分,”他说,“可对你来说并不是冒险——不会重蹈覆辙,你信得过我吗?”

“哦,我相信你。”回答得既干脆又响亮。“不是因为这个——根本不是因为——但是——”

“什么?”

她把脸埋在他的脖子里,痛苦的呻吟着。

“我不知道!”她叫道。

她似乎有点神经质,还略带恐惧。他的心凉透了。

“你不认为这是件丑事吧?”他问。

“不,我现在不这样认为,你已经让我明白这不是丑事。”

“你害怕吗?”

她急忙镇定了一下。

“是的,我只是感到害怕。”她说。

他温柔地吻着她。

“放心好了,”他说,“你可以按自己的心愿行事!”

突然,她抓住了那拥着她的胳膊,挺直身体。

“你可以要我。”这话像从她牙缝里挤出来的。

他的心又像一团火开始急速跳起来。他紧紧地拥着她,吻着她的脖子。她受不了,躲闪着。他松开了她。

“你回去不晚吧?”她温柔地问。

他叹了口气,几乎没听清她说了些什么。她等待着,希望他离开。终于,他轻轻地吻了她一下,然后翻过篱笆。他回头望了一眼,只见低垂枝条的树荫下隐隐露出她那苍白的面容。她全身已经隐去了,只剩下了这张苍白的面孔。

“再见!”她柔声说道。已经看不见她的身体,只有声音和那张若隐若现的脸。他转身沿路跑去,紧握着双拳,他来到湖滨大堤上,靠在那儿,抬眼望着黑色的湖水,感到神情恍惚。

米丽亚姆踏着青草匆匆地往家跑。她并不害怕别人的闲言碎语,但是她害怕和他发生那件事。是的,如果他坚持,她会让他要的,可是,事后想起来,她的心不由得往下沉。他得不到满足,准会非常失望的,也会因此而离开她。然而他是那么急切,对于她来说,那件事并不重要,重要的是因此而使他们的爱情破裂。毕竟,他与别的男人毫无二致,总想求得自己的满足。哦,他身上还有一些别的东西,一些更为深层的东西!尽管他有各种各样的欲望,但她还是信赖他。他说占有是生活中最伟大的时刻。所有强烈的感情都包容在这里面。也许真是这样。这里面包含某种神圣的意味;因此她愿意虔诚地做出牺牲。他应该占有她。想到这儿,她全身不由自主地绷紧了,像是抵抗着什么,但生活如强逼她走过这道痛苦之门,她也只好遵从了。不管怎么说,生活也会让他得到他想得到的东西,这也是她最大的心愿。她这样翻来覆去的思考着,准备接受他的要求。

他现在像个情人一样地追求着她。当他冲动时,她常常双手捧着他的脸,深深地凝望着他的眼睛。他不能正视她的凝视,她那充满深情和真挚的黑眼睛,像在探求着什么,这让他不由得避开了。她让他一刻也不能忘怀。等恢复平静后,他又深受自己对她的责任感的折磨,他始终不能心平气静,老处于焦虑和紧张的状态,从未放纵过自己饥渴的情欲和本能的性欲冲动,他强迫自己记住自己要做一个审慎和多思的人。仿佛总是米丽亚姆把他从狂热的情欲中唤回到个人关系的小天地中来。他实在忍受不了这样。他想大喊:“别管我,别管我!”。可她却让他充满深情地望着她。而他那双充满蒙昧和本能情欲的眼睛却不属于她。

农场的樱桃大丰收。屋后的樱桃树又高又大,茂密的枝叶下果实累累,红红的一片散挂在绿叶中。一天傍晚,保罗和艾德加一起摘樱桃。那是个大热天,天空乌云翻滚,天气昏暗闷热。保罗高高地爬在树上,高踞房子的红屋顶上,微风吹过,整棵树轻轻地摇晃起来,晃得保罗心神荡漾。这个年轻人摇摇欲坠地攀在细枝上,被树摇晃得有点头晕,于是他顺着挂满红珠般樱桃的树干往下溜。他伸手摘下一串串光滑冰凉的果实,樱桃磨擦着他的耳朵和脖子,凉嗖嗖的,舒服极了。此时一片深浅不同的红荫跃入他的眼帘,有灿烂的朱砂红,有鲜艳的鲜红,在幽暗的绿叶下显得光彩夺目。

西落的夕阳,突然钻进飘荡的乱云,壮观的金光照彻东南方,在天空堆起层层柔和的黄色晚霞。原本是暮色沉沉的世界此刻被金黄色的晚霞映得发亮,令人感到惊异。绿树和青草,以及远处的湖水都在霞光的照射下惊醒了。

米丽亚姆惊异地走了出来。

“嗨!”保罗听到她那圆润的嗓音在喊:“这么美啊!”

他往下看,只见一抹淡淡的金光从她脸上掠过,看上去柔和极了,她正仰望着他。

“你爬得多高啊!”她说。

在她身旁,四只死鸟躺在大黄叶上,那是偷吃樱桃时被击毙的。保罗看见树枝上吊着几颗樱桃核,象骷髅似的,果肉被啄光了。他又往下看了看米丽亚姆。

“云彩像在着火,”他说。

“真美!”她叫道。

她站在下面,显得那么娇小,那么温柔可人。他给她扔下一把樱桃,把她吓了一跳。他低声格格笑着,向她不断扔着樱桃。她捡起几颗樱桃,就慌忙跑开。她把两小串樱桃挂在耳朵上,然后又抬头看着他。

“你还没有摘够吗?”她问。

“快了。爬这么高就像乘船似的。”

“你要在上面呆多久?”

“直到太阳下山。”

她走到篱笆边坐了下来,看着那纷纷碎裂的金黄色的彩云随着暮色渐浓,汇成了一大片玫瑰色的断层云。火一般的金黄色变成了鲜红色,仿佛上天的心情痛苦到了极点,接着鲜红色褪成了玫瑰红,继而又变成深红,很快,上天那股火一般的热情平息了下来,整个世界又融入一片苍茫。保罗匆匆地提着篮子溜下树把衬衣袖子给钩破了。

“真可爱啊。”米丽亚姆摸着樱桃说。

“我的袖子也给撕破了。”他说。

她揭起被撕成三角形的裂口说:

“我来给你补一下吧。”裂口靠近肩膀,她把手指伸了进去说:“多暖和啊!”

他笑了,笑声中含有一种新奇的声音,让她不禁心跳加速。

“咱俩到外面去好吗?”他说。

“会不会下雨啊?”她问。

“不会的,咱们就散会儿步。”

他们沿着田野走进茂密的冷杉和松树林。

“我们到树林中去好吗?”他问。

“你想去?”

“是的。”

冷杉林中一片昏暗,尖锐的杉针刺痛了她的脸。她有些害怕。保罗一直沉默着,神色很古怪。

“我喜欢呆在黑暗里,”他说,“我希望树林再密一些,那黑暗更惬意。”

他看上去简直忘了她的存在,这时对他来说,她只不过是个女人罢了。她害怕了。

保罗背靠着一棵松树站着,把她搂进怀里,她任他摆布,不过,这是一种自我牺牲,她多少感到这种自我牺牲中有一种可怕的东西。此时这个声音沙哑,神情恍惚的男人简直就是一个陌生人。

不久,下起了雨。松香味四处弥漫。保罗头枕松针躺在地上,听着刺耳刷刷啦啦的雨声——一种持续不断的噪音。他的情绪低沉。此时,他才明白,她从来没有和自己息息相通过,她的灵魂处于恐惧状态,对他敬而远之。他仅仅获得了肉欲的满足,只此而已。他的内心凄凄忧伤,思绪万千,他的手指爱怜地抚摸着她的脸。她又深深地爱上他了。

他是多么温柔而英俊。

“下雨了!”他说。

“嗯,淋着你了吗?”

她把双手伸到他身上,抚摸着他的头发,他的肩膀,看雨是不是淋着了他。她是深深地爱着他。他脸贴着枯叶侧身躺着,心情特别宁静。他根本不在乎雨点是否落到了身上,他会那么躺着,直到浑身湿透,因为他感觉一切都变得无所谓了,仿佛他的生命已在散去,他已经进入了一个妙不可言的彼岸世界。这种不知不党中濒临死亡的奇怪的感觉对他来说十分新鲜。

“我们得走了。”米丽亚姆说。

“是的。”他回答着,却一动不动。

他此刻感到,生命仿佛就是一个影子,白天是一个白色的影子;夜晚、死亡、寂静和休止,这些才是生命的真实存在。而活力、热切、操守那才是虚无缥缈的东西。人生的最高境界就是融入黑暗之中,飘然而去,投入上帝的怀抱,与上帝同在。

“雨就要下到我们身上了。”米丽亚姆说。

他起身搀扶她。

“真遗憾。”他说。

“为什么?”

“我们得离开这儿。我觉得这儿很安静。”

“安静?”她重复了一遍。

“我一生从来没有这么安静过。”

她牵着他的手走着,她的手指抓得紧紧的心里隐隐有些害怕,此时他似乎超越了她,她害怕失去他。

“这些冷杉树在黑暗处象个鬼怪,每棵冷杉树都是一个鬼怪精灵。”

她有些害怕,沉默无言。

“一片寂静,整个夜晚都在沉思,在昏睡,我想我们死后就是这样——莫名其妙的昏睡。”

她以前害怕面对他身上的那种兽性,此时却害怕他神秘莫测的样子。她一声不响地在他身旁走着,雨点打在树上,发出的啪嗒啪嗒的响声。他们终于走到了车棚。

“我们在这呆一会吧。”他说。

到处是浙浙沥沥的雨声,湮没了一切声息。

“和自然界万事万物在一起,我觉得非常奇妙,非常宁静。”他说道。

“嗳。”她耐心地答道。

虽然他紧紧地握着她的手,可心里又似乎忘记了她在身边。

“放弃我们的个性,不再追求,不再努力——无所用心地活着,神志清醒的睡着——那是非常奇妙,那就是我们的来世——我们的永生的未来。”

“是吗?”

“是的——能够这样生活是非常美妙的。”

“你不常说这些。”

“是的。”

一会儿后,他们进了屋。屋里的每个人都好奇地看着他们。不过,保罗的眼睛依旧保持着那种平静而沉闷的神色,语调也依然保持着平和。自然大家都不去理会他。

这期间,米丽亚姆住在伍德林顿一所小屋里,姥姥病了,家里就派米丽亚姆去料理家务。那是个别致而小巧的地方,屋前有个红砖墙围着的大花园,紧靠墙根种着梅树。屋后还有一个花园,四周环绕着一排高高的杨树篱,把园子与田野隔开。这儿的景色非常优美。米丽亚姆也没有什么事可干,所以她有不少时间来读她喜爱的书籍,写些自己感兴趣的思想随笔

假日里,姥姥的身体渐有好转,就被送到德比的女儿家小住一两日。老太太脾气古怪也可能在第二天或第三天就回来,所以米丽亚姆独自一人留在小屋里,不过她倒也乐意这样。

保罗经常骑自行车经过,他俩照例过着平静快乐的日子。他也没有太为难她,到了星期一休息时,他就和她一起度过一整天。

这天天气晴朗,他告诉母亲要去哪儿,就离开家。这一整天母亲又得独自一人度过,想到这点,他心头不禁笼罩上一片阴影。不过,这三天假日是属于他自己的,他要干自己想干的事。保罗喜欢在清晨骑着自行车在小街上飞行。

大约十一点钟,他来到了小屋。米丽亚姆正忙着准备午饭,她面色红润,忙忙碌碌,看上去那模样与这小厨房十分协调。他吻了她后。就坐下来打量着这屋子。屋子虽小,却很舒适,沙发上罩着方格图案的亚麻布套子红蓝相间,虽然用旧了,也洗褪了色,但依然漂亮。墙角碗柜架子上放着一只猎头鹰的标本,阳光穿过香气四溢的天竺葵叶照进窗于。她正为他烹煮着鸡。这一天,小屋就是他俩的天地,他俩就是丈夫和妻子。他帮她打蛋、削土豆皮,他觉得她创造的家庭气氛,几乎和自己母亲所创造的一样,当她在炉边被烤得脸色通红,卷发散乱,看上去美极了,似乎没有人会比她更美。

这顿午饭极尽人意。他象个年轻的丈夫,切着餐桌上的肉。他们一直热情洋溢,滔滔不绝地聊着。午饭后,她洗碗碟,他来擦干,两人一起来到田野上散步。田野中一条波光粼粼的小溪流入陡峭的堤岸下的泥塘中。他俩在那里漫步,采了一些残留的立金花和大朵的蓝色的勿忘我草。她双手捧着鲜花,其中大多是金黄的水荸萝,坐在堤岸上。她把脸俯在立金花里,脸上映出一抹金黄的光辉。

“你满脸生辉,象耶稣的变形像。”

她带着疑惑的神色望着他。他讨饶似地对她笑着,把手搁在她的手上,然后吻了吻她的手指,又吻了吻她的脸。

万物沐浴着阳光,四周一片宁静,但它们并没有睡过去,只是在期待中颤抖着。

“我从来没有见过比这更美的景色。”他说,手里一直紧紧握着她的手。

“河水唱着歌欢快地流着——你喜欢吗?”她充满爱意地望着他。他那乌黑的眼睛闪闪发光。

“难道你不认为今天是难得的一天吗?”他问。

她喃喃地表示赞同。他看得出来她非常愉快。

“这是我们的节日——就我们俩。”他说。

他们又逗留了一会,接着两人从芳香的花丛中站起身,他天真地俯视着她。

“你想回吗?”他问道。

他们手拉着手默默地回了家。鸡群咯咯地叫着乱哄哄地沿着小路向她奔去。他锁上门,小屋就成了他俩的天下了。

他永远也不会忘记自己在解衣领时,看见她躺在床上的那副模样。开始,他只看到她的美,觉得眼花缭乱。她的身段美极了,他做梦都没想到她如此之美。他愣愣地站在那儿,一动不动,一句话也说不出来,只是脸上露出惊讶的微笑望着她。他想要她了,可是他刚向她迎上去时,她举起双手做了个恳求的动作,他看了看她的脸,站住了。她那双褐色的大眼睛迎望着他,一动不动,充满爱意,露出任凭摆布的神情。她躺在那儿,仿佛已经准备做出牺牲;她的肉体正在期待他;可她的眼神就象等待屠宰的牲口阻挠着他,他浑身的热血一下子冷却了。

“你确实想要我吗?”仿佛一团冷冷的阴影笼罩着他,他不禁这样问道。

“是的,我确实想要。”

她好象非常沉静,非常镇定,只是意识到自己在为他做着什么。他简直有些受不了。她躺在那儿准备为他做出牺牲,因为她是那么爱他,他只有牺牲她了,有一刹那,他希望自己没有性欲或者死去。他朝她又闭上眼睛,热血又沸腾起来。

事后,他更爱她了——全身心地爱她。他爱她,但不知怎的,他竟想哭。他不能忍受她那样为他做出牺牲。他和她一直呆到深夜。骑车回家时,他感觉自己终于跨出了一步,他不再是个毛头小伙子了。可是为什么他内心总是隐隐作痛呢?为什么他一想到死,一想到来世,反而感到那么亲切,那么宽慰呢?

他和米丽亚姆一起度过了一个星期,激情洋溢的他弄得米丽亚姆疲惫不堪才肯罢休。他总是一意孤行,丝毫不顾及她,任凭感情鲁莽行事。他不能经常干这种事,因为事后往往留下一种失败和死亡的感觉。如果真想和她在一起,他就得抛开自己和自己的欲念。如果想占有她,他就得抛开她。

“当我每次要你的时候,其实你并不是真正想要我,对不对?”他的黑眼睛带着痛苦而羞愧的神情问道。

“嗳,是的。”她赶紧回答。

他看着她。

“不。”她说道。

她开始颤抖起来。

“你知道,”她说着,捧着他的脸,把它贴在自己肩上——“你知道——象我们现在这样——我怎么能习惯你呢?如果我们结了婚,那么一切就好了。”

他托起她的头,看着她。

“你是说,现在发生的事让你难于接受?”“是的——而且——”

“你总是把自己紧紧地封闭起来,不让我靠近。”

她激动得直哆嗦。

“你知道,”她说,“一想到这我就不习惯——”

“你最近才开始适应?”他说。

“可我一辈子都习惯不了,妈妈对我说过:‘结婚以后有件事老让人觉得害怕,但你必须忍受。’我相信这句话。”

“现在还信?”他问。

“不!”她急忙喊道。“我和你一样,都相信爱情是生活的顶峰,即使以那种方式表达。”

“但这并没有改变你从不想要这种爱的事实。”

“不”,她把他的头拥在怀里,失望地轻轻扭动着身子,“别这么说!你不明白。”她痛苦地扭着,“难道我不想要你的孩子吗?”

“但不是要我。”

“你怎么能这么说?不过我们得在结婚以后再要孩子———”

“那我们就应该结婚,我要你给我生孩子。”

他神情严肃地吻着她的手。她看着他,忧伤地沉思着。

“我们大年轻了。”她终于说。

“都二十四和二十三岁了——”

“还不到呢。”她苦恼地摇着身子恳求道。

“等到你心甘情愿的时候。”他说。

她心情沉重地低下头。他说这些话时,那绝望的语调令她非常伤心。这总是他俩之间很难一致的地方。她默默地顺从了他。

他俩恩恩爱爱过了一周,一个星期天的晚上,临睡前他突然对母亲说:

“我不会常去米丽亚姆家了,妈妈。”

她感到惊讶,但什么也没问。

“你愿意怎么着就怎么着吧。”她说。

于是,他上床睡觉去了。不过,从此以后他身上又有一种新的沉默,她对此感到纳闷。她几乎猜到了是怎么回事,然而,她并不理他,过急了反而会把事情弄糟。她看着他形单影只不知道他会怎样收场。他病了,而且更加沉默不像他平时的为人,老是皱着眉头,还在他吃奶时就有这种表情,不过那是许多年以前了。然而,现在他又这样,她确实爱莫能助,只好让他独自闯自己的路。

他对米丽亚姆依然忠贞不渝。因为他曾全心全意地爱过他,不过,那日子已是黄鹤一去不复返了。失落的感觉越来越强烈。开始时他只不过感到伤心,后来,他觉得自己也不能这样继续下去了。他要逃离,无论如何要到异国他乡去。他渐渐地不再向她求欢了。因为,这一行为不但不能促成两人的亲密无间,反而使他们更加疏远。而且,他也意识到,这样做毫无益处。再努力也无济于事,他们两人之间永远无法达到一种和谐。

几个月来,他很少见到克莱拉。他们也偶尔趁吃午饭时到外面散步半小时。不过,他总是心存着米丽亚姆。然而,和克莱拉在一起他的眉头也舒朗了,心里又变得高兴起来。她百般迁就地对待他,把他当作一个孩子。他认为自己不在乎这些,但心里却非常生气。

有时候米丽亚姆会说:

“克莱拉怎么样啊?最近没听到她的消息?”

“昨天我跟她一起走了约二十分钟。”

他答道。

“她说了些什么?”

“我不知道,我觉得全是我一个人在唠叨——一我常常这样。我好象给她讲了罢工的事以及妇女们对罢工的看法。”

“哦。”

就这样他自己谈论起自己。

实际上,他自己没有意识到,他对克莱拉怀有的那股热忱已把他从米丽亚姆身旁拉走,他感到对此自己应负有责任,觉得自己是属于米丽亚姆的。他认为自己对米丽亚姆是完全忠诚的。在一个男人被感情驱使忘乎所以以前,很难估量他对女人所抱有的感情强烈炽热到什么程度。

他开始更频繁地与男朋友们来往。其中一个是艺术学校的杰斯普,一个是大学里的化学实验辅导员斯温,一个是当教师的牛顿,此外还有艾德加和米丽亚姆的几个弟弟。借口要工作,他跟杰斯普一起写生、学习。他去大学里找斯温,两人一起去“闹市区”玩。还和牛顿一起乘火车回家,顺道和他到星月俱乐部去打一盘弹于球。如果他借口和男友在一起,而不去米丽亚姆那里,他也觉得心安理得。他的母亲开始放心了,他总把行踪告诉她。

夏天里,克莱拉有时穿件宽袖的薄纱女服。当她抬手时,袖子就往后滑,露出两只健美的胳膊。

“等等,”他叫道:“抬着胳膊别动。”

他给她的手和胳膊画了几张速写,画中蕴藉着实物对他产生的魅力。米丽亚姆总爱认真地翻看他的书本和纸张,因而翻出了这些画。

“我觉得克莱拉的胳膊美极了。”他说。

“是的!这是你什么时间画的?”

“星期二,在工作间画的。你知道吗,我有一个角落可以干活。午饭前,我干完车间里所有需要料理的事。下午,我就可以干自己的事了,晚上只要照看一下事情就行了。”

“噢。”她说着,翻着他的速写本。

他常常厌恶憎恨米丽亚姆,厌恶她弯下身子仔细翻阅他的东西的样子,厌恶她不厌其烦地反复查问他,仿佛他就是一份复杂的心理学报告似的。在跟她在一起的日子里,他最厌恶她对他若即若离的态度,他因此而折磨她。他常常说,她只想攫取,而不肯施予,至少不肯把充满生气的热情施予别人。仿佛她从来没有活过,没有放射出生命的火花。寻找她就像寻找根本不存在的事物一样。她只是他的良知,而不是他的伴侣。他憎恨她,对她更残忍凶狠了。就这样,他们的关系一直拖到第二年夏天。他越来越频繁地去见克莱拉。最后,他终于开口了。一天傍晚,他一直坐在家里干活。他们母子之间似乎有一种人与人相处的特殊关系,就是双方坦率挑剔过错。莫瑞尔太太马上又来劲了,保罗不再和米丽亚姆那么粘乎了,那很好,她决定抱一种观望的态度,等待他先开口。他会回到她身旁的,这得很长一段时间,他将胸中郁积的怨气发泄完以后会回来的。这天傍晚,母子之间出现一种奇怪的紧张气氛。他象台机器似的拼命工作,以便自我逃避。夜幕降临,百合花的幽香悄悄地透过敞开的房门弥漫进来,香气四溢。突然他起身走出房门。

夜晚的美丽令他想放声长啸。一弯暗金色的新月正落向花园尽头的那棵黑黑的梧桐树后,月光把天际染成一片暗紫色。近处,模模糊糊的一排白色的百合花连成的花墙横穿园子,四处弥漫着花香,生机盎然。他踏进石竹花坛,石竹花那刺鼻的香味和百合花那阵阵摇曳的浓香分明地掺合在一起。他在一排白色的百合花旁停下。这些花都有气无力的耷拉着脑袋,仿佛在喘息。花香熏得他飘飘欲醉。他走进田野去看月亮西坠。

干草场上一只秧鸡不停地叫着。月亮飞速坠落着,射出越来越红的光。在他身后,高大的花儿前躬着身子,仿佛在呼唤着他。摹地他又闻到了一股花香,有些刺鼻呛人。他四处探寻发香之处,发现是紫色百合花,于是伸手抚摸着它们肥胖的花颈仿佛在抓着什么的黑色的花瓣。不管怎么说,他总算找到了。这些花长在黑暗中,散发着刺鼻的香气。月光在山顶上逐渐消失,四周笼罩着一片黑暗。秧鸡仍在叫着。

他折下一枝石竹花,突然进了屋子。

“好啦,孩子,”母亲说,“我看你该上床睡觉去了。”

他站在那儿,把石竹花凑近嘴边。

“妈妈,我要跟米丽亚姆散了。”他平静地说。

她抬着腿从眼镜上面望着她。他也丝毫没有退缩的回望着她。母子俩对视了一会,她摘下了眼镜。他的脸色十分苍白,男子的气概又回到他身上。她不想大仔细地看他。

“不过,我原以为——”母亲开口说。

“可是,”他答道:“我不爱她,我不想要她——因此,我应该结束这一切。”

“可是,”母亲吃惊地叫道,“最近我还以为你已经打定主意要娶她呢,因此我没什么可说的。”

“我曾经——我曾经想过——但现在不那么想了。这没有什么好处。我要在星期天跟她断绝关系。我应当这样做,对么?”

“你心里最清楚。你知道很早以前我就这么说过。”

“现在我不得不和她散了。星期天我就去了结。”

“哦,”母亲说,“这样做再好不过了。但从最近来看,我以为你打定注意要娶她我只好不说什么了,也不应该说。不过,我还是说句老话,我认为她不适合你。”

“星期天我就跟她吹。”他说着闻了闻石竹花,随后把花放进嘴里,心不在焉地咧着双唇,慢条斯理地嚼着花,结果弄得满嘴都是花瓣。接着,他把花瓣唾到火里,吻了吻母亲,就上床睡觉去了。

星期天下午,他早早就去威利农场。他已经给米丽亚姆写了封信,说他们还是到田野上散散步,去赫克诺尔去。母亲对他温柔体贴。他一句话也没说,不过她看得出来,他为这件事付出了极大的努力。他脸上那异常坚定的神情使她感到心里踏实。

“别担心,孩子,”她说,“等这件事完了以后,你心情就会好起来的。”

保罗吃惊而怨恨地瞥了母亲一眼,他可不要她的怜悯。

米丽亚姆在小巷的尽头跟他会了面。她穿着一件印花麻纱新短袖。看到她那惹人怜爱的两只露在短袖下的胳膊——那么可怜,那么柔顺,他心里更加痛若,使他反而变得更加狠心。她是专为他一个人穿戴打扮得如此艳丽动人,花枝招展。每次看到她——现在她已经是一个风韵成熟的年轻妇女了,在新衣的衬托下显得更加美丽——他内心就感到一阵痛苦,简直象要爆炸似的,他竭力克制着自己。可是他已经打定主意,一切都无法挽回了。

他们坐在山上,他头枕在她的腿上,躺了下来,她用手指抚摸着他的头发。正如她所说的她知道他心不在焉。每当她和他在一起时她常常追寻他的心灵,但不知它飘到什么地方去。可是今天下午,出乎她的意料。

他告诉她时间已经快五点钟了。他们坐在一条溪流边上,有一片草皮铺盖在凹陷的黄土河滩上。他用一根树枝乱戳乱舞,每当他烦躁不安和下狠心时,他总是这样。

“我一直在考虑,”他说,“我们该散了。”“为什么?”她吃惊地失声喊道。

“因为再继续下去没有什么好处。”

“为什么没好处?”

“是没好处。我不想结婚。我根本不想结婚。既然我们不打算结婚。这样下去就没什么好处。”

“那你为什么现在才说这话?”

“因为我已经打定了主意。”

“那这个月来算怎回事,还有你曾经跟我说的话又怎么解释?”

“我也无能无力!我不想再继续下去了。”

“你不想要我了?”

“我觉得我们还是散了好——你摆脱了我,我摆脱了你。”

“那最近几个月的事怎么办?”

“我不知道。我一直跟你说真话,而且是怎么想就怎么说。”

“那你为什么现在又变卦了?”

“我没变——我还是一样——只是我觉得这样继续下去没什么好处罢了。”

“你还没告诉我为什么没好处。”

“因为我不想再继续下去了——我不想结婚。”

“你说过多少次你要娶我,我都没有答应?”

“我知道,但我还是觉得我们应该散了。”

他恶狠狠地挖着土,两人都沉默着。她低着头沉思着。他简直象个任性的不可理喻的小孩。他更象个婴儿,一旦吃饱,就把奶瓶砸个粉碎。她看着他,觉得还可以抓住他,从他身上逼出一些常性来。可是她又觉得无从下手,无能为力。于是她喊到:

“我曾说过你只不过十四岁——其实你才四岁!”

他听到了,仍旧恶狠狠地挖着土。

“你是个四岁的小娃娃!”她愤怒地又重复了一遍。

他没有回答,只是在心里默默地说:“那好吧,既然我是个四岁的小娃娃,那你还要我干什么?我可不想再找一个妈妈。”可他什么也没说出来。两人都沉默着。

“你跟你家人说过吗?”她问。

“我告诉了母亲。”

又是一阵沉默。

“那你到底想干什么?”她问。

“哦,我就希望我们俩一刀两断。这些年来我们一直在一起生活,现在,就让我们到此为止吧。我要离开你走自己的路,你也应该离开我走你自己的路。这样你就可以自己过一段独立的生活。”

这话有几分道理,尽管她痛断肝肠,她还是不由得牢牢记住这些话。她清楚自己象根捆绑他的索链,她恨这样,但又身不由己。自从她感到爱情之火过于强烈的时候起,她就恨自己对他的爱情,而从心灵深处来说,正由于她爱他并受他支配而恨他。她一直反抗着他的统治,现在终于摆脱他了。因此,与其说他摆脱了她,倒不如说是她摆脱了他。

“再说,”他继续说,“我们多少会永远彼此牵念。你为我做过很多事,我也同样为你做过许多。现在让我们重新开始,独立生活吧。”

“你想要去干什么?”她问。

“什么也不干——只想自由自在。”他回答道。

然而,她却十分明白,他之所以这样,就是因为克莱拉的影响在起作用,要解放他。不过,她什么也没说。

“那我该怎么对我妈妈说呢?”她问。

“我告诉我妈,”他回答说,“我要一刀两断。”

“这话我不会告诉家里人的。”她说。

他皱着眉头说:“那随你便了。”

他明白是他将她陷入一个不洁的境地,在她危难时离弃不顾。想到这一点,使他十分恼火。

“你可以告诉他们,你不会也不愿嫁给我就只好分手了,”他说道,“这可是真的。”

她郁郁不乐地咬着手指,回顾两人的恋爱历程。她早就意识到会有这样的结局,她始终明白这一点。如今正如她那痛苦的预料。

“一直——一直是这样!”她大声喊道。“这是我们之间一直争论不休的问题——你一直在竭力摆脱我。”

这话犹如闪电,不知不觉从她嘴里喷了出来。他的心霎时仿佛静止了。她就是这么看待这件事的吗?

“但我们在一起也度过了许多美好的时光和愉快的时刻!”他分辩道。

“从来没有过!”她叫道,“从来没有过。过去你一直在努力挣脱我。”

“并不是一直这样——开始时就不是这样!”他分辩着。

“一直是这样,从一开始就这样——一直都是这样!”

她说完了,不过她也说得够多了。他坐在那儿直发愣。他本来想说,“过去相处很好,只是现在该结束了。”她否认他们之间有过美好的爱情,不过,以前他在鄙视自己时曾相信过她的爱情。“他过去一直在竭力挣脱她吗?”那可真荒唐。他俩之间原来什么感情也没有,过去他一直想像着他们之间存在着什么感情,原来是竹篮子打水一场空,而且,她早已知道,她什么都清楚,只不过没告诉他。她一直很清楚却把它隐藏在心底。

他痛苦地坐在那里,一声不响。整个事情的结尾就是一个绝妙的讽刺。她原来一直在玩弄他,而不是他玩弄她。她在他面前隐藏起所有对他的不满,一直在逢迎他,而内心却在藐视他。她现在又瞧不起他了。他变得聪明起来也更残忍了。

“你应该嫁给一个崇拜你的人,”他说,“那样你就可以为所欲为。会有不少男人崇拜你呢!只要你了解他们天生的缺陷。你应该嫁给这样的男人,他们决不会竭力想挣脱你。”

“谢谢!”她说,“不过用不着你来建议我嫁给什么样的人,你以前就曾建议过了。”

“好吧,”他说,“我再也不会说了。”

他静静地坐在那,感到好像不是给了别人一拳,而是挨了别人一拳。他们八年的友谊和爱情,他生命中的这八年,变得毫无价值。

“你什么时候想到这点的?”她问。

“我在星期四晚上就有明确的思想。”

“我就知道迟早会有这样的孰”她说。

他听了这话,心里感到欣慰。“懊,太好了,她如果知道事情会发展到这一步,那么她就不会感到意外。”他想。

“你对克莱拉说过什么吗?”她问。

“没有,但我会告诉她的。”

一片沉默。

“你还记得去年这个时候,在我姥姥家,你说过的话吗?不,上个月你还说过,还记得吗?”

“是的,”他说:“我还记得!而且我说的是真话!那些话没有实现,我无能为力。”

“那些没有实现,是因为你另有所求。”

“不管实现没实现,你总是不会相信我的。”

她奇怪地大笑起来。

他默默地坐着,他现在只有一种感觉,就是:她骗了他。在他以为她崇拜他时,实际上她在鄙视他。她让他信口开河地乱说一气却从不反驳他,她让他独身瞎闯。最让他咽不下的一口气是,在他以为她崇拜他时,实际上她在藐视他。发现他的错误时,她应该告诉他,她太不公平,他恨她。这么多年来,她一直当面把他看作英雄,而心里把他当作一个乳臭未干的小孩,一个愚蠢的孩子。可是,那又为什么她任凭一个愚蠢的孩子出丑卖乖呢?他恨极了她。

她痛苦地坐在那里。她早就知道了——呵,她知道得一清二楚!在他疏远她的那一段时间,她就把他看清楚,看出他的渺小、卑劣、愚蠢。甚至在她内心已经对他作好了防备,以免受到他的打击和伤害。她并没有被打击,甚至都没怎么伤着。她早就知道了,可是为什么他还能坐在那儿依然控制和支配着她呢?他的一举一动都让她着迷,仿佛被他施了催眠术似的。然而他却是卑鄙虚伪,反复无常的小人。为什么她还受到这种支配呢?为什么世上再没有谁的比他的胳膊动作更能挑动她的心灵呢?为什么她被他紧紧地左右着?为什么即使现在,假如他看着她、命令她,她还是会言听计从呢?他的任何命令她都会唯命是从的。不过,她清楚一旦服从了他,那她就会把他置于自己的控制之下,要他去哪他就去哪儿。她对此非常自信。都是这位新近的插足者的影响!唉,他不是个男子汉!他只是一个哭闹着要新玩具的小孩子。无论他的心向往什么,都无法长久羁绊他的易变的灵魂。好吧,就让他走吧。不过等他厌倦了新感觉时,他还是会回来的。

他一直在那里挖着土,挖啊挖,直到她烦得要死。她站起身。他坐着那里往河里扔土块。

“我们到附近去喝点茶吧?”他问。

“好吧。”她答道。

喝茶时他们谈了一些不相干的话题。他滔滔不绝地谈着对装潢艺术的爱好——是那间乡下别墅引起了他的谈兴——以及它与美学的关系。她的态度冷淡而沉默。在回家的路上,她问:

“我们不再见面了吗?”

“不见了——或者极少见面。”他回答道。

“也不通信?”她道,几乎在挖苦。

一随你的便吧,”他答道,“我们不是陌生人——不管怎么样,我们也不应该成为陌生人。我以后会常常给你写信的,你就随便吧。”

“我明白了!”她尖刻地答道。

不过,他已经是任何东西都伤不了他的心了。他已经作出了生命中的一次大裂变。刚才她告诉他说他们之间的爱情从来就是一场冲突时,他为此大吃一惊。现在这一切都无所谓了。

假如根本没有爱,那么对于这段爱情的结束也没什么奇怪的了。

他在小巷的尽头与她分手了。望着穿着新衣的她,孤零零的往家去,就要应付巷子那一头的家里人,他心里充满着羞愧和痛苦,他一动不动地站在路上,心里想到是自己让她受煎熬。

为了恢复自尊,他本能地走进了柳树酒店想去喝几杯。店里有四个外出玩的姑娘,各自喝着一小杯葡萄酒,她们的桌子上还扔着几块巧克力。保罗就坐在一旁喝着威士忌。他注意到了那几个姑娘正压低嗓门嘀咕着什么,还互相推推搡搡。不一会,一个身材健美,皮肤黝黑,看起来十分轻桃的姑娘向他探过身来说:

“想来块巧克力吗?”

另外三个姑娘哈哈大笑,笑这位姑娘不知害臊。

“好啊,”保罗说:“给我来块硬一点的——带果仁的,我不喜欢奶油的。”

“好,给你,”那姑娘说,“这是块杏仁的。”

她把巧克力拈在手指间,他张开了嘴,她把糖扔进了他的嘴里,脸色不禁红了。

“你真好!”他说。

“咳”,她答道,“我们刚才看到你一副愁眉苦脸的样子,她们都问我敢不敢请你吃一块巧克力。”

“再来一块也行—一给我一块不同味儿的尝尝。”他说。

大家立刻嘻嘻哈哈笑成了一团。

他九点钟后回家,天已黑了,他悄悄地进了屋,母亲一直在等着他,看到他回来,她立即匆匆忙忙地站起身。

“我已经给她说了。”他说。

“我非常高兴。”母亲大大松了一口气回答说。

他疲倦地把帽子挂了起来。

“我说我们还是一刀两断吧。”他说。

“做得对,孩子,”母亲说,“现在她虽然难受,不过这样做对将来有好处,我知道你和她不合适。”

他坐下时笑得全身震颤起来。

“我在酒店里跟几个姑娘玩得挺开心。”

母亲看他这会儿已经忘了米丽亚姆了。他把在柳树酒店和几个姑娘相遇的事讲给她听,莫瑞尔太太望着他,他的快乐仿佛是强装出来的,内心其实十分忧郁而痛苦。

“来吃晚饭吧!”她柔声细语地说。

晚饭后,他若有所思地说:

“妈妈,她并不失望,因为她一开始就很本没想跟我好。”

“我怕她对你还会有意思。”她说。

“不,”他说,“也许不会。”

“你知道你们还是彻底断了关系的好。”她说。

“我不知道。”他绝望地说。

“好了,把她抛到九霄云外去吧。”母亲回答。

就这样,他离开了米丽亚姆,留下她孤零零的一人,很少有人关心体贴她,她也很少关心别人。她独自在耐心等待着什么。



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